Everybody is looking for a shortcut, but not every shortcut is smart. These AI writing fails show how short-sighted it is to replace writers with machines.
I think we can easily award “Writing Blooper of the Year” to Microsoft. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), Microsoft recommended The Ottawa Food Bank as one of Ottawa’s top 15 must-see attractions.
Huge AI writing fail by Microsoft
The now-removed article was titled “Headed to Ottawa? Here’s what you shouldn’t miss!”
Among the juicy tidbits were:
- Listing the food bank as one of Ottawa’s “beautiful attractions”.
- Closing the item with “Life is already difficult enough. Consider going into it on an empty stomach.”
- Explaining that Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival offers visitors the chance to “play on North America’s largest snow”.
- Informing readers that “The Canadian Parliament Buildings are the buildings that house the Parliament of Canada.”
To make it even more ridiculous, the Ottawa Food Bank does not even serve the public. It serves as a distribution warehouse for supplying 114 “member agencies” who help feed the hungry in the city.
Microsoft claims its goof-up was not a failure of AI, rather a failure of the human review. If AI writes an article, it stands to reason that a human should review the article.
Clearly, however, AI failed miserable by steering tourists to a food bank distribution center. But Microsoft is right that this is a failure of the human review. In fact, it is a HUGE failure. It makes one wonder just how low an IQ one has to have to get a job as a Microsoft article reviewer.
AI also fails at writing drafts
It’s not just Microsoft. It seems to be commonly accepted these days that AI can still be useful to shorten the writing process. The very reasonable-sounding thought process is as follows:
- Give AI a detailed writing prompt
- Read the output and refine the prompt to get a better draft article
- Keep refining the prompt until the basic content is what is needed for the article
- Decide when you have a first draft that includes all the information desired
- Edit the article as you would edit any first draft
If an eight-hour article-writing process can be shortened to one or two hours, why not?
The problem comes with AI’s output.
First off, it’s bland. That’s because AI draws from a huge language bank, so it’s style will always be an amalgamation. Consider what flavor your smoothie would be if you put every fruit and vegetable in the world into it. Bland.
Of course, you can ask AI for a specific tone: informative, opinionated, colloquial, sassy, angry, whatever. But it will still be bland, just as you can make the smoothie hot or cold or spicy, but it will still be bland.
This means you will have to do more than light editing. You will have to rewrite the whole article in your own words, in your own style with whatever tone you prefer.
Except that blandness is not the only problem with AI’s output. If you haven’t spotted it since the start of this article, accuracy is of some concern, too.
I assume you would catch an error as big as sending tourists to a food bank distribution center. But the Microsoft article shows us just how many mistakes AI can make, many of which you might not catch. Let’s face it, you cannot be expected to know everything.
Which brings us to an even more basic problem. If you don’t use AI to write the first draft, can you use it for research?
Oops. AI also fails at research
I thought AI would be the perfect tool to research an article. It might be ideal to find things that are hard to search by typing keywords into search engines. The types of searches I am referring to might be:
- Write me 500 words about five amusing anecdotes of famous people who got caught on a hot microphone.
- Write me 500 words about five examples of municipal planning that went wrong.
- Write me 500 words about five examples of criminals who got away.
I tried this approach to get some good content for a couple articles a few months ago. It was so exciting to see Chat GPT summarize situations that I could never have found by a simple search.
But the excitement soon waned. One by one, I took the time to verify the accuracy of the summaries I asked for. And one by one, I was unable to find any mention of them. It was like Chat GPT had made up the stories.
AI had invented facts, most likely by pulling bits of different stories from different events and different people and re-assembling them as brand new stories. Thanks, AI.
AI won’t be my writer
Even for research, it’s pointless to use AI. That might change one day, but AI still has a long way to go before it’s of any use for serious writing.
Just for fun, here are a few more AI errors in that Microsoft article:
- “…hosting 35 major festivals like the Canadian Tulip Festival”. As far as I know, there is only one Tulip Festival, and there are no others like it.
- The picture of the Rideau Canal was placed under the heading for Omega Park, which is actually half-way between Ottawa and Montreal, and should not even be on the list any more than the food bank.
- “It is a must-see place specially if your children are with you when you come to visit Ottawa.” Nice grammar.
- “It was an incredible accomplishment of human ingenuity as well as their effort.” Ooh, more nice grammar.
- “Ottawa, as Canada’s capital, draws visitors from around the world who come to see its historic buildings and landmarks, experience its arts and culture, and take in the sights and sounds.” OK, except this sentence is half the entry for taking in an Ottawa Senators hockey game.
- “The ByWard Market, located in Ottawa,…” Just in case people forgot they were reading an article about Ottawa.